Glenwood baseball coach Brett Elam was hesitant to use the R-word, but the sixth-year Ram coach couldn’t help it when describing his 2012 team.
“In a sense it does feel like a rebuilding year,” Elam said. “We have a lot of kids coming back but the last two years we’ve lost some pretty good classes. So it essentially seems like a rebuilding year but it sort of isn’t because we have kids coming back so we’re not starting from scratch. We’re going to have a lot of kids this year get the most playing time they’ve ever had.”
The Rams were 29-8 overall and 15-3 a year ago, finishing their season in the second round of districts with a disappointing loss to Harlan.
Elam’s first task this season is replacing two-time all-stater and current University of Iowa pitcher Taylor Kaufman. Kaufman was a five-year starter who led the Rams on the mound and the plate last season and is the school’s all-time leader in wins and home runs. Elam said no one player can replace Kaufman’s leadership or production.
“I don’t know if you can ‘replace’ him and what he’s given us the last five years,” Elam said. “It’s more of a matter of stepping up by committee. Grant Stivers is our only senior coming back so that kind of hurts, but on the same point we have pretty good sophomore and junior classes. We don’t expect any one person to step up and take the place of that senior class we had last season. It’s just a matter of coming to the field ready to play.
“We don’t have that big bulldog pitcher we’ve had in the past. And we can’t rely on one person for that. We’ll have to do the little things and rely on our execution.”
The Rams return just two of their top eight hitters from a year ago in junior Alec Forbes and Stivers. Forbes hit .418 last season with 38 runs driven in and 11 doubles. Stivers, who played second base and outfield, hit .348 with seven doubles and 14 RBIs.
Forbes, Stivers and sophomore Corey Bertini will top Elam’s pitching rotation. Bertini was a perfect 6-0 last season with a 1.09 earned run average. Forbes won four games and fanned 36 in 33 innings while Stivers was 4-0 in his four starts with a 3.50 ERA.
Elam said he’ll likely use Forbes out of the bullpen early in the season as his closer and ease his arm into the rotation.
“We have decent arms. We’re not going to have that big stud who you can give the ball to and expect to go seven innings every night,” Elam said. “But early on, we’ll use Forbes to come in and shut the door on teams, if we have that opportunity. We won’t expect any of our guys to go complete games early in the season, unless their pitch counts are way down.”
Early in his pre-season, Elam’s like what he’s seen of his team so far.
“We’re not looking too bad,” he said. “We had a lot of kids in the summer throwing program so our arms are in pretty good shape. That’s a good thing because with track, soccer, tennis and golf going on, practices have been tough. It’s just a matter of getting guys in, getting reps in and making sure guys are throwing and getting swings in.”
Elam admits the busy spring sports season bumping so close to the baseball season is tough for practices, but he knows most teams are in the same boat.
“You struggle with what you want to do in practice because you don’t know who is going to be there and you don’t want to have to go over things 10 different times if you don’t have to. It’s tough but we’re all dealing with it all over the state.”
Elam’s biggest concern less than a week before his team’s first game?
No, not his hitters. The actual bats. State rules have mandated teams go to the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) bats this season. Elam said the new bats have a smaller sweet spot and don’t have the pop of previous years.
“There’s a ton of difference,” Elam said of the new bats. “They went from a seven inch sweet spot to a three inch sweet spot. In batting practice the other day we only had to balls hit the fence in the air. It just seems like when the ball gets out there, it just dies. I don’t know. We may end up leading the state in sacrifice bunts.
“We’re going to have to play station to station because we can’t wait for somebody to hit one out or into the gap to get guys in. We’re going to have to move guys around. I think it’s going to be a different game all around the state.”